Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Swarmed By Bees

When I was four years old I was swarmed by bees. It was early spring. I was standing under a dogwood tree in a neighborhood in Bethesda, Maryland. One bee landed on my head, one on my face. I froze. The bees swarmed, looking for a home. After what I perceived to be at least an hour, covered head to torso with bees (it was probably about fifteen minutes), the bees began to fly off. 

I have never forgotten the sound of their unified humming in my ears, the sound softly humming through my skull. Ever since, I have found the sound of bees, many bees, moving through flowers in summer, or even swarming near a hive, comforting.

They are fantastic creatures. Honey bees — wild and domestic — perform about 80 percent of all pollination worldwide. A single bee colony can pollinate 300 million flowers each day. Grains are primarily pollinated by the wind, but fruits, nuts and vegetables are pollinated by bees. Seventy out of the top 100 human food crops — which supply about 90 percent of the world’s nutrition — are pollinated by bees.


I wrote the prose-poem below about the experience. It references the current horrors going on with colony collapse disorder (yet another horror among all the others we currently face). In the last fifteen years, honey bee colonies and many other pollinators have been dying off at alarming rates. If you want to know more about the causes for the decline of bee colonies and possible solutions, there is information below the poem.

The poem was previously published in Bitter Oleander
Autumn 2016 issue.

It's another poem from the manuscript,  
How the World was Made.



When I was four, standing under a dogwood tree, I was swarmed by bees. One landed on my head; another landed on my cheek. My first sting had happened the week before, so I froze. Another landed on my ear; one on my neck. I closed my eyes, terrified. I am not saying this from inside a dream. Ever since that day, the hairs on the back of my neck have been antennae.


Hundreds of bees crawled over my head, inside my ears, up my nose, around my eyes. A few crawled over my lips, into my mouth, searched the wet cave, came up with nothing, and flew out. Waves of tiny legs moved across my skin, wandered over my arms, ranged down to my waist, all following the queen to a new home. I am not saying this from inside a dream. Ever since that day, my skin has been made of bee wings; millions of bee wings, woven together.


Late at night, when the neighborhood quiets down, I can sometimes still hear them, deep inside my ears. Whispers, grumblings, half-chants from cretaceous poems folded into veined wings. Moddor…muddor…brethmuddor… Mother from mud; mother from breath; mud-breath mother: the first bee rising out of the first flower; birthed together. I am not saying this from inside a dream. The hexagonal facets in my eyes can now see all around me at once; can see how everything gives birth to everything else at the same time.


Have you seen the bees that have been driven mad? Have you seen the empty hives? Thiamethoxam and clothianidin: words from a new language; birthed yesterday. Acetamiprid and imidacloprid: secret initiation chants. The bees cannot find their way to the pollen, cannot find their way back home. Nitenpyram, nithiazine, thiacloprid: a shadow language, alone of its kind. I am not saying this from inside a dream. I weave invisible nets around my bed late at night to catch these words before they infect me. 


Hold a bee in your hand. It weighs almost nothing. Like us, it’s a creature made mostly of space. Unlike us, it doesn’t fight against or deny the space that makes up its body. They manipulate it, revel in it. They know that the space between their atoms is also the space they fly through. I am not saying this from inside a dream. I once ran towards the full moon, setting in the west, and lifted off the ground.


What will we do when all the pollinators die out? A bee died in my open hand after stinging me and I felt the strange soul sift down through my skin; migrate towards an epipaleolithic cave in the back of my skull. I saw myself gently slip a hand into a stone crevasse, grope for honey, bees swirling around my body. I am not saying this from inside a dream. In the hours before dawn, my hands become tarsal claws, are able to cling to the orange streetlight.

Man gathering honey, epipaleolithic cave drawing, Spain


There are many causes for the decline of bee colonies and the worldwide decline of pollinators: habitat destruction (including biodiversity loss due to large fields of monocultures), invasive species, air pollution, pesticides and climate change. Climate change is a huge disaster because the insects shift their ranges as temperatures rise. If the range shifts too dramatically over too short a period of time, the plants that they pollinate may be left without a pollinator. 

The poem focuses on pesticides as a major contribution to the loss of bee colonies, especially the pesticides known as neonicotinoids (known as neonics). They are absorbed into the plant's vascular system and appear in roots, pollen and nectar, having an impact on pollinators throughout the whole life-cycle of the plant. Neonics are used on corn, soybean, canola and cereal, as well as many fruits and vegetables.

The multinational agribusiness corporations that produce neonics have insisted that their pesticides are, at best, a small part of the problem. They point to studies that find pesticides as one probable cause, but not THE CAUSE for bee colony and other pollinator die-off, stating that it's important to 'find the right balance' when finding a solution for the die-offs. 

A note here, to show exactly what balance they are talking about (the balance sheet): Bayer makes and markets imidacloprid and clothianidin (neonics); and Syngenta produces thiamethoxam (another neonic). In 2009, the world market for these three toxins reached more than $2 billion.

“In the last four years, the chemical industry has spent $11.2 million on a PR initiative to say it’s not their fault, so we know whose fault it is.” Jon Cooksey, writer, director, How to Boil a Frog.

Neonics & Greed

This from the Alternet Article by Reynard Loki, October 6, 2015 (Bees are Facing Global Threat: if they go, so do we): "Perhaps there is no need to find a 'right balance' when it comes to neonics simply because they may not even be necessary. One of the arguments of the agrochemical industry is that there are no alternatives to neonics. That is simply not true. It's just that many of the alternatives do not enrich corporate coffers. On their Save the Honey Bees website, the Pesticide Action Network, an international coalition of NGOs, citizens' groups and individuals fighting pesticide use in around 60 countries, recounts an important story that farmers who are under the false assumption there are no options should note:

"In 2008, when Italy discussed a possible banning of the use of seed coating on maize because of the spectacular honeybee colony losses, the industry made an impressive media campaign on the lack of alternatives to fight the Western Corn Rootworm and the economic damages such a decision would make: tens of millions of euros for farmers. After 4 years of maize harvest without neonicotinoids, no dropdown in maize production could be observed and an ancestral, simple and free technique replaced costly neonicotinoids: crop rotation. Such a technique can efficiently replace neonicotinoids for many plant predators.

"One word in that story strikes fear in the hearts of agrochemical executives and their propagandist minions: free. They have a lot to lose if farmers turn to alternatives. (For a list of more sustainable alternatives to specific neonics, click here.) According to Statista.com, the worldwide agrochemical market generated $203.6 billion in 2013 and is on target to generate more than $242 billion in revenue by 2018. In 2012, insecticides and seed treatments (mostly neonic-based) comprised about 30 percent of Bayer CropScience’s revenues, and over six percent of Bayer’s overall sales."

Sanity & Insanity

In June 2016, France became the first country in the world to completely ban neonics - going beyond temporary EU restrictions. This huge victory came about in no small part because of the group SumOfUs and their efforts. The French ban came about right after UK Ministers rejected an “emergency” application to ignore the EU neonics ban and use bee-killing seeds.
Meanwhile, the U.S. supports the corporations that produce and market the deadly pesticides. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to allow the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, despite a U.S. Department of Agriculture report warning about the dangers of the bee colony collapse. (EPA acknowledges neonics harms bees, then bows to pesticide industry) 

In 2014, President Obama signed the now infamous “Monsanto Protection Act" — written by Monsanto lobbyists — which gives biotech companies immunity in federal U.S. courts from damages to people and the environment caused by their commercial compounds.

And now the Trump people will continue the process of deregulation - handing the world over to those who will destroy it for money. They may even get rid of the EPA itself. No more annoying regulations to block the flow of money, money, money. 

Climate Change? Doesn't exist when we're talkin' money. Pesticide causing extinction? Doesn't exist when we're talkin' money. So, when all the pollinators die out, all you idiots who stuck your head in the sand to put out the fire burning your ass, can dance through the (unpollinated) flowers and cackle with glee because there are no more regulations stifling the free flow of the market. 

So…how are you going to eat?

What can be done

This from the Save the Bees section of the Greenpeace website:

"Common sense actions can restore and protect the world’s bees. Here’s a strong start:

  1. Ban the seven most dangerous pesticides.
  2. Protect pollinator health by preserving wild habitat.
  3. Restore ecological agriculture.

"Ecological farming is the overarching new policy trend that will stabilize human food production, preserve wild habitats, and protect the bees. The nation of Bhutan has led the world in adopting a 100 percent organic farming policy. Mexico has banned genetically modified corn to protect its native corn varieties. Eight European countries have banned genetically modified crops and Hungary has burned more than 1,000 acres of corn contaminated with genetically modified varieties. In India, scientist Vandana Shiva and a network of small farmers have built an organic farming resistance to industrial agriculture over two decades.

"Ecological, organic farming is nothing new. It is the way most farming has been done throughout human history. Ecological farming resists insect damage by avoiding large monocrops and preserving ecosystem diversity. Ecological farming restores soil nutrients with natural composting systems, avoids soil loss from wind and water erosion, and avoids pesticides and chemical fertilizers."

And these actions from the SumOfUs website:

SumOfUS are supporting threatened bee scientists and the beekeeper alliance who are fighting Bayer and Syngenta in court (two companies responsible for the production and sale of neonics).

They are about to deliver over 200,000 messages and comments supporting a proposed ban on deadly neonics to Canada’s Health Minister.

They just filed a shareholder resolution at US supermarket giant Kroger calling on it to develop bee-friendly supply chains.


(in Pesticides and You, a quarterly publication of Beyond Pesticides) by Jay Feldman and Nichelle Harriott

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful prose! I love the image of the bees swarming you coupled with a sense of comfort hearing their buzzing. Great information about supporting our planet through saving the bees and getting vocal about toxic pesticides. Thank you.